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March 14 book signing, jam session, provide prelude to Delta Blues Symposium XV's exploration of musical connections

March 12, 2009 -- Dr. Gregory Hansen, English and Folklore, will be signing copies of his book, "A Florida Fiddler: The Life and Times of Richard Seaman," at That Bookstore in Blytheville (TBIB) on Saturday, March 14, at 7 p.m. After the signing, Rachel Reynolds, who holds the Janna Lambert Scholarship in History, will host and perform in a fiddle jam session that is open to any interested old-time and/or bluegrass musicians. According to TBIB's Web site, Hansen's "A Florida Fiddler " is more than "a biography of a traditional fiddle player. It is a chronicle of the collaboration between a fieldworker and his subject. It is also an exploration of the evolution of a tradition, a look at the methods of public-sector folklorists, and a regional history of central and north-east Florida. Finally, it is a study of the American tall tale in its Southern incarnation." For details, contact That Bookstore in Blytheville, 316 W. Main, (870) 763-3333. Dr. Hansen discussed "A Florida Fiddler" on a recent edition of KASU's "Music from the Isles," with host Mike Doyle, director, KASU 91.9 FM.

This article, by Dr. Gregory Hansen, associate professor of English and Folklore, Department of English and Philosophy at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro,Dr. Gregory Hansen, author of "A Florida Fiddler: The Life and Times of Richard Seaman," will sign copies of his book Saturday, March 14, at 7 p. m., at That Bookstore in Blytheville, 316 W. Main, Blytheville. originally appeared as part of the series ASU Biology in the News, (#197), a series of articles about various aspects of science, including research and opinions, which appears every Sunday in The Jonesboro Sun, northeast Arkansas's daily newspaper.

Arkansas State University-Jonesboro’s Department of English and Philosophy will provide the public with opportunities to explore connections between different types of roots music and the blues in their 15th annual Delta Blues Symposium. This year’s theme is “Celebrating a Century of Delta Culture,” and the event will be held at ASU’s Reng Student Services Center/Student Union, 101 N. Caraway Road, April 2-4.

A number of distinctive musical traditions come together in the uniquely American style of music known as bluegrass.  In the 1940s, Kentuckian Bill Monroe blended together old-time string band music, ballads, blues, gospel, and other genres to create his own sound in his band, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.  A rich and virtuosic fiddling style has emerged in this music that blends together blues music with old-time hoedowns.

Early country fiddlers were influenced from a variety of European styles of instrumental music.  They brought their musical traditions and the fiddle to America during the Colonial era, and by the American Revolution, social dancing to the fiddle was a popular form of entertainment across the emerging nation.  America’s southern states became especially well known for the richness of their fiddling tradition, and a distinct style of music emerged.

The square dance was popular in many communities, and in many southern states, many of the fiddlers were African-Americans.  Folklorists and music historians have identified unique techniques for playing the fiddle and distinct rhythms that show a clear influence from African-American musicians.  The influence of African-American culture is a major contributor to the unique quality of distinctive fiddle styles.

Old-time string band music was thriving by the early 19th century, and it predates another important form of roots music, the blues. Blues music emerged a century ago in African-American communities, and it shows clear influences from earlier genres.  By the time that Monroe crystallized the bluegrass sound, the blues had become a major form of popular music.  In turn, the blues had a major influence on bluegrass.

Monroe’s debt to the blues is multifaceted. As a young man growing up in Rosine, Ky., he became enamored with the blues music of Arnold Schultz, an African-American country blues player in Monroe’s community. Bluegrass lyrics, song structure, rhythms and instrumental techniques show a clear influence from Schultz’s blues and other musical forms popular in the 1930s and 40s. Another influence of blues on the bluegrass sound came from Monroe to a fiddle virtuoso named Robert “Chubby” Wise.

Wise was born in St. Augustine and raised in Lake City, Fla. He grew up playing the fiddle in an old-time style, and his early recordings suggest that he was influenced by Florida’s rich blues tradition. After he replaced Howdy Forrester as an early member of Monroe’s band, Wise became one of the most influential bluegrass fiddlers in the world. He is credited with “putting ‘the blues’ into bluegrass fiddling.”

Wise credits Monroe for the blues influence to his sound. He notes that Monroe showed him how to play long, bluesy notes and new rhythms to create his own sound as an ace fiddle player. Wise is also known for playing a variety of blues tunes on the fiddle and for the show-stopping fiddle lines that he played in the best-selling fiddle tune of all time, “The Orange Blossom Special.”

For more information on fiddling, blues, and the symposium, contact Dr. Hansen at or call (870) 972-3043.  A full schedule of symposium events is available at



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